Friday, July 02, 2004

Weighing In 

In a move that should be commended, the AFL, Cricket Australia and Netball Australia have formed the Sports Alliance to help introduce physical activity programs into after-school care. More on this at the Offical Website of the Australian Football League in 'AFL Helps In Fight Against Childhood Obesity (30 June 2004). I do learn stuff watching The Footy Show.

The ABC reports that the federal government will provide $116 million to schools and community groups for programs promoting physical education and healthy eating (Howard launches $116m obesity fight', 29 June 2004). The article mentions Opposition Leader Mark Latham's plan to ban the advertising of junk food during children's television and Prime Minister John Howard's assertion that such a move would create a 'nanny state.'

The Prime Ministers' media release 'Building a healthy, active Australia', (29 June 2004) gives more details, while The Australian explores some of the issues in 'Fat lot of good that'll do' (30 June 2004).

So here's what I think.

If 1.5 million Australian's under the age of 18 years are overweight or obese, and the government's plan is mostly targetted to 150 000 primary school age children (not all of whom will be overweight or obese), then that still leaves us short of addressing the problem by at least 1.35 million children and teenagers.

"It's like standing in front of a glacier with a box of matches trying to stop it," says Michael Booth, director of the NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity. "It's not the way to do it - it will run over you." (The Australian, 'Fat lot of good that'll do', 30 June 2004).

The Prime Minister believes that to ban the advertising of junk food during children's TV programming would be to create a 'nanny state.' In my opinion, a 'nanny state' would exist if the government decided not to allow junk food advertising during adult programming. A nanny looks after children and I feel that it's quite appropriate that a government might look after the interests of children by banning junk food advertising.

Cigarette advertising is already banned in any media at any time because of the known health risks. Would not a ban on junk food advertising at specific times be in line with current public health policies?

If choices about healthy eating are really made by parents, as the government suggests, then banning the advertising of junk foods during children's programming should not affect sales of those foods. If this isn't the case, hopefully the $11 million allocated to parent education on physical activity and healthy eating choices will help.

The issue of childhood obesity involves more than what we as individuals eat and the activities we undertake.

Louise Baur, consultant pediatrician at Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital, says the causes of obesity are broader than simply what goes on in schools. Money would be better spent on urban design, public transport, subsidising sports club membership and "a whole lot of other things designed to get people out of doors". (The Australian, 'Fat lot of good that'll do', 30 June 2004).

When living in Perth, breathing in fumes and dodging traffic on my way to the local pool, I often reconsidered the relative health benefits of a swim. Not being able to drive, I understand how urban design affects the independence and health of people who do not have that freedom. That group most definitely includes children.

The issue of overweight and obesity, in both children and adults, needs more than a few sports stars rocking up to day-care.

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